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Mark My Words… Excellence is Beyond Numbers

Posted: December 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

A Chinese proverb that I came across during my high school days changed my life forever. In hindsight I it probably made me chase “failure” as a means to professional growth. “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand,” is the quote that brought about the first of several paradigm shifts in my life whereby I decided that education and grading was not my cup of tea.

Teachers at school simply told me what to learn and how to be evaluated. Somehow, this method didn’t make my mind tick. Sadly, the teachers who were paid to teach were only obliged to “complete the syllabus”, take a test and dole out marks to students who stuck to the trodden path. The “right answer” defined as the one that the teacher had learned at high school!

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Of course, science and math teachers had it easy. I mean, how can anybody mess up the Pythagorean theorem? And we knew that all the chemical elements had a name that would have made R2D2 and C3PO (of Star Wars fame) die of shame! So, all you needed for success at high school was a bottle of churan (ref: Chatur Ramalingam of 3Idiots) and infinite patience to revise. Sadly, I lacked both.

But, the question that rankled me was why an English teacher or a History or Social Sciences professor wanted to read only answers from the text books? Why would they want the students to refrain from thinking ‘out-of-the-box’? To my mind, the reason was a mix of incompetence to think beyond text books and the straitjacketed approach to evaluation they were forced to follow as a process.

Thirty years down the line, I find that teaching is much the same. My daughter who answered that escalators are found in “train stations” had marks reduced because the instructor thought the right expression was “railway station”. Now, does she go and argue her case or sit back with a sinking feeling that grades depends on the evaluator’s ability and more importantly on their interest in the subject being taught.

My tryst with evaluation didn’t end thirty years ago at high school. Being forced to take up Science, I performed quite well with Physics as it made me feel closer to all that exists in nature. With biology too there was that involvement in terms of being able to learn about my body, though chemical equations often flummoxed me because I couldn’t experience what was being taught. I mean, how can one see oxygen or hydrogen?

But, the worst of the tortures came in the form of Math, more specifically Algebra. Someone, my limited intellect could not accept the idea that “a” and “b” & “X” and “y” could be used to create engineering marvels across the world. If Picasso thought that ‘7’ was his uncle’s overturned nose, to me algebraic equations were equivalent to medieval torture. “You’ve been sentenced to 14 years rigorous Algebra”!!! Ugh!

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